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Whatever profession you are a part of it requires some set of skills in order to accomplish.  The skill is useful, or at least someone thinks it's valuable enough to pay you to perform it. At the beginning of your career you are learning many new things every day.  Your new job/project constantly pushes the boundaries of your experience.  As time progresses and you become able to perform your job with less assistance from mentors and co-workers. The great initial momentum at which you learn new skills and refine existing ones begins to peter out. This is not guaranteed to happen, but it gets harder to find time to really focus on improving your craft. It's something I've found myself struggling with this past year.

In the technology industry this is more important than most.  If the is organization you work for is smart they'll invest some time & money into skill development of their employees. Maybe it's bringing in consultants to give training, lunch & learn sessions or sending employees to attend conferences. All of those are awesome!  ...but usually they are not enough by themselves, things are just changing too rapidly.  Even if the tools & processes you work with are not shifting as fast as other areas of the industry, there is almost always something you could do to hone your skill.

For starters, I think it's most important to do this at a sustainable pace.  Doing something (even if it's tiny) to learn more is always better than nothing.  Also, much it's easier to find time and energy to undertake little exercises than it is to try and attempt something larger and more intensive.  Here are some different bit-sized things you can try to help get you back on track with personal skill development.

  • Follow an author you respect: Either on twitter or their personal page/blog. A great place to start, especially if you are not too familiar with the public development community of your favourite languages & technologies. Find an author of a good technical book you've read (or just heard about from friends & colleagues).  See who/what they talk about and learn more about it.
  • Subscribe to some podcasts:  Find one that talks about the skills/tools that pertain to your job.  This is a great way to hear about new and different things in your field.  As a ruby developer I would highly recommend the Ruby RoguesRuby5, and the Ruby Show.
  • Find an aggregator site for your language: These are "blogs" or sites that are dedicated to collecting and linking to useful articles that have to deal with a certain language or technology (Ruby examples: Rubyflow, Ruby Inside, Sitepoint)
  • Browse/Join online communites:  Join a forum that is dedicated to your languages.  Ask/answer questions, or just lurk. Learn what topics are touchy or highly contested and how spot users that are not constructive. Stack Overflow and right here in TechHui are some good general places for this.
  • Participate in your local development community:  More and more tech focused groups are springing up.  These are great opportunities to meet, learn from and network with other professionals in your area. Meetup.com has a lot of local groups. If you're on Oahu, attend a WetWare Wednesday event. Aloha.rb, Ohana JS, and OUDL are some other great local groups to join.
  • Practice personal retrospectives:  Simply take some time at the end of of your day or week to reflect on how you performed.  What you thought was good or any place you could improve tomorrow is great data you can use to help yourself improve.  Perhaps write them down on a sticky note as a reminder for the following day.

These are just a few suggestions I am attempting to practice with greater regularity.  Listening to a podcast during breakfast or during your commute.  Reading an informative blog post while you are blocked and waiting for feedback from a co-worker.  Attending a meetup some evening you are free... Individually they don't take much time but their cumulative effect over a month, a year can add up to a lot more than you would expect.

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Tags: craftsmanship, development, skill, software

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Comment by Joseph Lui on September 4, 2013 at 5:32pm

"skill momentum" nice concept

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